One year after the boat accident off Italy, the question of guilt remains

As of: February 26, 2024 3:18 p.m

More than 90 migrants died in a boat accident off the coast of Italy a year ago. Coast Guard employees are already being investigated. But the government is also accused of complicity.

A circle of candles and teddy bears on the beach at night: Nearby, about a hundred people stand in the darkness at the spot where bodies washed up on the shore a year ago. A vigil with which relatives and members of aid organizations remember the victims of the Cutro disaster.

They set up 35 teddy bears as a symbol of the 35 minors among the 94 dead recovered from the worst migrant disaster in years off the Italian coast.

Bahara Hossein is among those mourning on the beach. The 16-year-old student from Afghanistan has been living in Peine near Hanover for nine years. Yesterday she took part in a demonstration by relatives and aid organizations in Crotone. “We came here from Germany,” she says. “I lost my aunt, my cousin and my cousin. They got caught in the middle of the boating accident.”

Bahara Hossein, together with family members, remembers her deceased aunt, her cousin and her cousin.

Victims still missing

Her little cousin was only ten years old, the student says sadly. Her cousin, whose body was never found, was 20 years old, her aunt was 40. “They wanted to come here to go to school, to further their education, to work. Now they have died and one has disappeared,” says the young Afghan woman . In total, at least twelve of the approximately 180 people who were said to have been on the boat are still missing.

What still embitters Bahara Hossein and other relatives is the belief that the disaster could have been prevented if the Italian rescue workers had taken action in time. The accident occurred in high waves just a few hundred meters from the coast. “We want an answer as to why the country didn’t help from the start, even though they had planes over the ship,” says the 16-year-old. “They could have helped directly, but they didn’t.”

Who is responsible?

The Crotone public prosecutor’s office is already investigating six employees of the coast guard and the financial police for possible failure to provide assistance in connection with the sinking of the migrant ship. The day before the disaster, a reconnaissance aircraft from the EU border protection agency Frontex had reported the ship heading towards the southern Italian coast.

Although there were fears that the motor sailor might get into trouble due to the heavy seas, no search and rescue operation was initiated by the Italian side.

As the Ansa news agency reports, relatives of the victims in Crotone have announced that they will sue the Italian government. In a civil lawsuit they want to demand damages from the government for failure to provide assistance.

Survivors and relatives of the victims pray on the beach in Cutro, Crotone province, at the site where the migrant boat capsized.

Italy’s opposition leader Elly Schlein also blames the Meloni government. “We’ve been asking the same question for a year: How was it possible that Coast Guard ships didn’t go out to help a boat that was known to be in trouble?”

While Schlein took part in the demonstration by relatives and aid organizations in Crotone, government representatives stayed away from the commemorative events on the anniversary. Tommaso Foti, leader of the Meloni Brothers of Italy party, defends himself against accusations from the opposition. It is not the government that is responsible for the deaths, but the people smugglers. More than ever, the task remains to prevent illegal migration.

A first verdict

Immediately after the Cutro disaster, the Meloni government tightened migration laws. Among other things, Italy has restricted the opportunities for migrants to receive humanitarian protection in Italy.

In addition, the penalties for smugglers have been increased. At the beginning of the month, a Turkish citizen who is said to have piloted the ill-fated boat was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Crotone.

In contrast, Giovanna di Benedetto from the aid organization Save the Children calls for more help for people seeking protection and less isolation from the European Union. “The enormous resources that exist to limit migration should be used for aid and rescue operations and for legal and safe routes to Europe, for humanitarian corridors.”

Di Benedetto, who co-organized the commemoration in Cutro, recalled that, according to the International Organization for Migration, 29,000 people have died in the Mediterranean over the past decade trying to reach Europe.

Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Rome, tagesschau, February 26, 2024 6:09 a.m

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